DIRECTED BY: Steven Soderbergh
WRITTEN BY: Scott Z. Burns
STARRING: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle
RATING: 3 stars
Films like Contagion scare me more than any supernatural horror film ever could. The idea that a deadly, contagious virus could spread so easily around the world because people are so unhygienic is horrifyingly realistic. Yes, I'm one of “those people” who carries hand sanitiser wherever I go. You might think I'm weird, but I value my cleanliness. Having seen Contagion, I am now more convinced than ever that carrying hand sanitiser is a smart idea.
Told through multiple stories around the world (but mostly in cities across the United States), Contagion begins with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) who arrives home from a business trip in Hong Kong to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and her son in Minneapolis only to come down with a serious and mysterious illness. Soon, others start to contract the virus and people begin to die from the disease. The infection, which is named MEV-1, rapidly spreads around the world, leading the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) to investigate and try to develop a cure. CDC Deputy Director Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) sends Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to investigate Beth's activities because she was the first person known to contract the virus, while WHO representative Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) travels to Hong Kong to do the same. Meanwhile, blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) claims authorities are keeping the cure a secret, which leads to mass panic.
The theme of Contagion has obviously been born out of the fears of recent worldwide infections like Bird Flu and Swine Flu. However, it is the idea that no disease could ever spread quicker than the fear of the disease, which is the most significant theme of the film. Contagion looks closely at how mass hysteria can occur and is an almost more realistic, rather than gory, film of this genre. It also seems to express a frustration with how red tape, funding issues and inter-agency politics hinder the management of such diseases. The film also seems to criticise pharmaceutical industry pressure groups.
Perhaps it is because of all of the politics that Contagion lacks the right level of emotion, and it's disappointing that you don't connect with the characters as much as you would like to. It seems the impressive cast full of Oscar winners and nominees is almost stifled by the script and the greater story idea that the individual stories are not as developed as they should be.
I'm probably being a little hard on Contagion, but it's certainly not Steven Soderbergh's best film. Rather than blow me away, all it did was make me more aware of my own habits, like how often I touch my face, and more paranoid about the hygiene of the person sitting next to me on the bus. Contagion is worth a look, just don't touch anything at the cinema.